Agesilaus and Epaminondas

Some impose upon the world that they believe that which they do not; others, more in number, make themselves believe that they believe, not being able to penetrate into what it is to believe. The best of us is not so much afraid to outrage him as he is afraid to injure his neighbour, his kinsman, or his master. And yet we often renounce this out of mere contempt: for what lust tempts us to blaspheme, if not, perhaps, the very desire to offend?

The philosopher Antisthenes, as he was being initiated in the mysteries, the priest telling him, “That those who professed themselves of that religion were certain to receive perfect and eternal felicity after death”, answered he:

If thou believest that, why dost thou not die thyself?

Diogenes, more rudely, according to his manner, said to the priest that in like manner preached to him:

What! thou wouldest have me to believe that Agesilaus and Epaminondas, who were so great men, shall be miserable, and that thou, who art but a calf, and canst do nothing to purpose, shalt be happy, because thou art a priest?

We only receive our religion after our own fashion, by our own hands, and no otherwise than as other religions are received. Either we are happened in the country where it is in practice, or we reverence the antiquity of it, or the authority of the men who have maintained it, or fear the menaces it fulminates against misbelievers, or are allured by its promises. These considerations ought, ’tis true, to be applied to our belief but as subsidiaries only, for they are human obligations. Another religion, other witnesses, the like promises and threats, might, by the same way, imprint a quite contrary belief.

And what Plato says, “That there are few men so obstinate in their atheism whom a pressing danger will not reduce to an acknowledgment of the divine power,” does not concern a true Christian. What kind of faith can that be that cowardice and want of courage establish in us? A pleasant faith, that does not believe what it believes but for want of courage to disbelieve it!

Michel de Montaigne – Essays

Published by Diogenes

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